Packing It In

What and How to Pack in Light of Tighter Airline Restrictions

February 9, 2002


Generally, I am a minimalist when it comes to traveling. Less is always more – except when it comes to fly-fishing trips. Even so, I never load up on clothes, only gear. You just never know what they won’t have at your destination, and inevitably it’s always something you need critically.

On a recent trip to the Seychelles I decided to take no chances and bring three of everything, plus a bag full of gear for someone who was desperate to get some specific equipment down there. Turns out, as a result of the events on September 11, the airline was now seriously enforcing a three-bag limit, including carry-ons. Of course, I wasn’t about to leave my fly rods, which are no longer considered carry-on baggage (often regardless of the number of pieces), or my camera, so I paid for extra luggage. Weight was not a problem on that flight, but I was carrying 50 pounds too much for my connecting Air Seychelles flight. Now I was in danger of losing several thousand dollars’ worth of gear, all because I hadn’t checked for weight limits ahead of time. After some pretty slick maneuvering, I managed to get my stuff on board without paying close to $500 in tariffs. But to make things worse, on my way back I realized that I hadn’t worn or used most of what I lugged halfway around the world. That’s when it hit me – being prepared is one thing, but there are limits to what you should and shouldn’t bring.

What You Can Bring
You might think that after September 11, regulations within airports and aboard airlines have become somewhat stricter, and you’d be right. What you may not realize is that the regulations seem to get interpreted differently from airport to airport and even among airlines within the same airport. ”One of the biggest issues our clients have today concerns security and their fishing equipment,” says Brad Wolfe of Angling Destinations in Sheridan, Wyoming. ”The problem is that security is very inconsistent, even in the wake of what happened.”


Most airlines have similar guidelines as to how much luggage you are entitled to bring aboard for free. Generally it’s any combination of three total pieces, including up to two carry-ons per passenger. (Note that two rods, one reel, one landing net, one pair of boots and one tackle box constitute ”one item,” according to most airlines, but there’s no mention of how or even if they want it packed.) Normally, passengers are also entitled to bring one piece of personal gear with them on board, such as a briefcase.

That said, I’ve had moderate trouble at different times since September 11 traveling with my gear. For example, on one leg of a recent trip, I was forced to check my rod case and pay extra for my camera case (I was told that it was not a briefcase). Returning on the same airline, not only was I allowed to carry on my rod tube, but also I didn’t have to pay extra for my camera case.

”We tell our clients to check with each carrier they are flying before they leave to make sure they know the restrictions, but even then you can’t be sure until you get there,” says Joe Codd of Frontiers Travel. ”Generally we tell customers that any four- or more- piece rods can go on as carry-on luggage, but we’ve even seen problems with that.” Wolfe points out that a number of times recently, anglers traveling with five-piece rods in their briefcases have been asked to remove them and check them. I don’t know about you, but the idea of checking a $500 2 1/2-foot, graphite-filled metal tube at the last minute scares me to death. Especially since you likely brought the rod as insurance against the airline losing or breaking the ones you knew you had to check. ”I don’t want to scare people away from buying and traveling with multipiece rods. In fact, most people have no problem traveling with them, but you just can’t tell anymore,” says Wolfe. I guess the point is to be prepared for anything and expect the worst.


”When I went to Harker’s Island in early November, I took a four-piece rod and carried it on four different flights, no problem,” says John Mazurkiewicz, who works with Catalyst Marketing for Scientific Anglers. ”On my way back though security in North Carolina I was at the X-ray machine, and I put the rod and tube through. When it came out, the screener asked me about the tube’s contents. I said it was a fishing rod. She had to ask another screener if it was OK to bring a rod on board a plane. The second screener’s reply was ‘I think so.’ My reaction: They shouldn’t think, they should know.” In many cases, most of the problems experienced seem to stem from a last-minute judgment call, and arguing on the ramp with security is a surefire way to get kicked off the flight altogether.

Now just in case you have to, you can travel with extra bags – for a fee. Sometimes the fees are based on size and sometimes on weight, especially on smaller carriers or at tiny foreign airports. In some cases, weight restrictions take precedence over the number of pieces. Also, some airlines run luggage embargoes to certain destinations during peak seasons, meaning you’ll end up even more limited on what they will allow you to bring. You have to know before you go.

Rest assured that you can get everything you need to your destination with a little bit of planning and forethought. Just remember not to bring any bladed or sharpened instruments in anything you carry on board. This includes things like hooks of any size, knives, line nippers, nail knot tools, forceps, pliers, Leatherman-type tools or anything that might even be construed as a weapon. Nowadays this may even include fly rods.


What You Should Bring
The biggest problem for most of us stems from the fact that we tend to overpack. Admittedly, some situations require you to pack more gear than you’d prefer, but a little planning goes a long way. ”You just need to put a little thought into determining exactly how necessary the items are you want to bring,” says Wolfe. Luckily, most travel services will provide a full list of destination-specific gear, including clothing.

As far as clothing goes, the new supplex-type shirts and shorts that a variety of manufacturers make work great. You can get away with a couple of shirts and a couple pairs of shorts or pants, depending on your preference, for a week’s worth of fishing. It may sound odd, but you can wash the stuff every day in the sink, and it’ll dry in a few hours. Plus it’s very lightweight material. Keep in mind, though, that you may also need something dressier for the evenings. Some locations, even remote ones, may require men to wear pants and a shirt and women to wear a dress. Frontier’s recommends two or three pairs of lightweight cotton or supplex shorts and two or three shirts in light colors, plus lightweight rain gear, a light jacket for cool weather, a hat, a pair of universal shoes like boat shoes, sandals or sneakers – and a pair of wading shoes. ”I’ve actually worn my flats boots as regular footwear so that I didn’t have to pack them,” says Wolfe. Angling Destination’s clothing checklist is very similar for fishing attire, and both recommend some light, casual attire for evenings, depending on necessity. The key: If you don’t need it, don’t bring it – if in doubt, leave it. And besides, the fish don’t care if you look wrinkled.

As for gear, always bring a rod to handle each species you intend to target, plus a backup. Sometimes I just bring a pair of 9-weights. This may be too much for some fish and not enough for others, but the added backbone helps beat windy conditions, and you’d be amazed at what you can haul in with a good 9-weight. It’s also wise to pack rods in a substantial rod case, like the DB Dunn ”bomb-proof” case or any number of equally secure cases. If the rods have to get checked though, you might as well protect them as best you can. The tubes you get with the rod are nice for storage, but they are not heavy enough to protect against rolling around under some heavy luggage in a baggage compartment at 35,000 feet. And, of course, no case will protect them from getting lost.


Likewise, reels pack easily, as do extra fly lines – and you should always bring at least one backup fly line – but chances are you won’t need more than one backup of either. The new multitip lines are great because they allow you to bring a full range of lines, to a limited extent, in one package. You can also either pretie a bunch of tippets and leaders or bring prerigged ones, but extra tippet spools are easy to drag along. Just don’t bring every line class under the sun.

As for flies, seriously limit yourself. The lodge or camp you’ll be fishing will recommend what flies work best in their location. Take their advice. Bring universal flies, like Clousers and Deceivers, and then bring specific flies for your intended target. Assume you’ll lose a number of flies each day to coral, rocks, teeth and, with a little luck, just plain use. Bring a handful for each day, but don’t bring a handful of each for each day. And whatever you do, pack them in your checked baggage. There are several stories circulating about fly boxes and flies being confiscated at the gate. Many people like to bring vises, too, to tie or modify flies as necessary, but keep in mind that most tools must be packed in your checked baggage. Besides if you have enough flies, a vise, materials and tools really just add up to unnecessary baggage.

Lastly, keep your luggage simple and easy to drag through busy airports. Soft-sided bags work best and are easiest to pack onto smaller planes. Luckily, a number of fly-tackle manufactures also make excellent travel gear, and some if it clips together to form larger single units. These are worth the investment. When packing your gear, keep it protected, especially inside soft luggage. Because soft bags will likely get pushed out of shape by heavier bags in the baggage hold, don’t pack anything valuable on the periphery of the bag; keep these items in the middle, and they should stay safe.

There remain a variety of other items that you should bring, but any good travel service, like Angling Destinations and Frontiers, will offer a checklist of gear and peripheral items specific to your destination. In the end, with a little thought and experience, a good fly-fisherman can easily pare down his equipment and luggage for a trip as well as he does for a day on the flats. And remember to allow a little extra time at the airports for security and check-in, and be patient. We’re all still a little frazzled after September 11.


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